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10 things you should be negotiating every time you land a job offer, according to ex-Microsoft HR VP

Chris Williams   

10 things you should be negotiating every time you land a job offer, according to ex-Microsoft HR VP
  • Companies expect job seekers to negotiate, though negotiating base pay can be tough.
  • You can also negotiate about signing bonuses, guaranteed bonuses, and working remotely.

As a 40-plus-year veteran of the corporate world and the former VP of HR at Microsoft, I've seen a lot of people successfully negotiate their job offers.

Yet many people are reluctant to negotiate. They feel like the offer is a "take it or leave it" proposition. They should think again. Even in a tight market, some negotiation is common and doesn't have to be adversarial.

As with many things in the working world, it helps to look at things from the other side of the table.

They want you

The most important thing to understand about the job search is that by the time you get an offer, an employer wants you.

The hiring team has seen dozens or hundreds of résumés. They've spent hours interviewing several people. They've discussed, even argued over, the last couple of candidates and decided on you.

They're now invested in you. As you're thinking about how cool it would be to have the job, they're thinking about how great it will be to fill the job. You should use that to your advantage.

They expect it

When they present an offer, they don't expect you to just say, "Yep, sure," and sign it. Almost no one does that, especially not at more senior levels.

At the very least, most people think about the offer overnight. They discuss it with their families or their confidants and make sure it's the right choice. Companies want you to do that, so you'll be all in when you do commit.

But almost everyone says, "This is great, but …," and so begins a bit of negotiation. They expect it.

In fact, the company has counted on it. They've made the offer a little slimmer because they expect movement.

You're not insulting them by negotiating. It's business.

Your stock is highest before you join a company

The very best time to discuss your value to the company is right before they actually know you.

Once you've been there, they have seen you in action. They will have performance information, peer feedback, and results. They know all your highs and your lows.

In the beginning, all they have is anticipation, and this anticipation has been building ever since you nailed the interviews.

Your stock is never higher than this moment, so use it.

It's not all about base pay

When most people think about negotiating a job offer, they often think about base pay, or the salary or hourly rate.

While there might be some room to negotiate the pay, it helps to think about things from the other side of the table.

Salary is tough for a company to negotiate because base pay is forever and it virtually never goes down, even if the business goes up or down.

Pay is also the basis for future raises. If the company agrees to a larger number when you start, that compounds in the future.

That's why they have salary bands for almost every job — a salary range that may include several people. Putting you outside that range creates a fairness problem.

You might have a little room to negotiate base pay, especially at senior-level jobs where the pay bands are quite wide.

But for most people, salary is not a great negotiating point. If you feel strongly about it, though, push back a little, but making a deal could be hard.

10 things you should negotiate

Fortunately, there are many other places to negotiate. Here are some ideas, though some may or not apply to your situation.

1. Signing bonus

The standard go-to negotiating point is the signing bonus. "This change is tough on me or my family. Can you bridge the gap?" Maybe request 10% of your annual base as a one-time payment right away. Companies like these because they are one-time, not recurring, costs.

2. Guaranteed bonus

If the company uses bonuses, push for a guaranteed first bonus. A given amount is fixed right now, but payable at bonus time. Again, this is a one-time cost to the company.

3. Higher commissions

If you're in a commission-based role, negotiating that number is very akin to a salary number, and it's often hard to argue. But perhaps you can push for different cliffs (where the number changes) or bonuses.

4. More remote work

If you like working remotely and can excel at it, try advocating for more remote work and fewer in-office days. This can depend on whether other people on your team have this option, but you'll never have more leverage than right now.

5. Relocation coverage

If relocation is part of the package, push there — maybe ask for full coverage, not just a stipend, or ask about extended temporary housing. Some companies will even use a service to buy your current house.

6. Spousal benefits

It's not uncommon, especially with married couples, to ask for some kind of job assistance for their partner. Perhaps résumé assistance, job counseling, a headhunter, or some other benefit. It often helps to close the deal.

7. More paid time off

If the company hasn't already jumped on the "unlimited PTO" train, and vacation is important to you, try asking for more there. There may be an equity issue with your peers, but it's worth a shot.

8. Company equity

Stock or stock options are a very common negotiating point, especially with more senior people. There's a whole world of options (pun intended), but this is a frequent deal point.

9. Healthcare

Healthcare benefits are often seen as a take-it-or-leave-it package. But if you have some extenuating circumstances, perhaps a family member with health challenges, see if there's room for more benefits. Companies, especially larger ones, often have some flexibility here.

10. Creative compensation

With senior roles, you can often get creative with compensation. You could try to arrange an incentive structure: If you're brought in to solve a specific problem, you'll get a set bonus if you solve that problem by a specified date. The options here are endless; I've even seen this with midlevel roles.

There are so many options to negotiate; there's almost no excuse not to. And again, before you actually start the job is the best time to do it.

It should feel a little uncomfortable

If you're at all like me, negotiations are not fun. I'm more than a little conflict-averse, and negotiating feels like torture.

I try to remember something I once heard: If your counteroffer doesn't make you feel a little guilty — like you've gone a little too far — you haven't pushed enough.

Remember, they'll probably come back somewhere in the middle, where both parties can be happy.

So negotiate that job offer, and get what you deserve.

Chris Williams is the former VP of HR at Microsoft. He's an executive-level advisor and consultant with more than 40 years of experience leading and building teams.

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